Cocaine Legalization and Mexico’s War on Drugs

September 5, 2019

Over the past decade, Mexico has become infamous for its violent war on drugs. Since 2006 when President Felipe Calderon deployed over 6,500 Mexican soldiers to shut down drug traffickers throughout the country, the ensuing bloodshed has been devastating. Mexico has lost soldiers, civilians, and so many other precious lives in the process. In 2018, Mexico’s homicide rate reached a record high with over 33,000 homicides committed in one year. Many tourists have been dissuaded from visiting the beautiful country rich with so much history and diverse culture out of fear of the violence so often discussed by global news outlets. However, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is trying a new approach to hopefully improve the current situation. This past week on August 21st, Obrador has made steps towards legalizing cocaine. Except this policy would only apply to two people.

The policy would allow two unnamed plaintiffs to use and carry small quantities of cocaine, but would not allow them to sell any amount of the substance. The policy still needs to be approved by Mexico’s high court. Cofepris, Mexico’s health regulation organization, has blocked the court order and it is now waiting to be reviewed by a tribunal. CNN reports on Lisa Sanchés, the MUCD (Mexico United Against Crime) head director’s opinion on the move towards legalization. She states, “This case is about insisting on the need to stop criminalizing users of drugs... and design better public policies that explore all the available options, including regulation."

MUCD hopes that this step towards legalization could allow Mexican law enforcement to dedicate more time and resources to prevent violent crime, rather than drug usage. However, legalization of drugs has not always been widely accepted by Mexican citizens as a positive way to approach ending the war. Marijuana was legalized for medical use in 2017, and months later the ban on recreational use was lifted as well. Currently, a permit must be obtained from Cofepris to legally use marijuana. While this change allowed Mexico to participate in the global legal market for marijuana, many were still not happy with the decision.

CNN spoke with Gunther Baumgarten, editor at consultancy firm Latin News and Canning House associate, who reported that he feels the new cocaine policy could get the president into some “rocky territory”. He expresses his feeling that the majority of Mexicans were against marijuana legalization because of the potential public health risks it posed, and now with cocaine, there are even more risks and a lack of monetary incentive compared to marijuana. He states that the move towards legalization is “not necessarily popular” among Mexican citizens. While there are varying opinions on the best way to reduce violence in Mexico, hopefully, these steps towards decriminalization and drug regulation will be a step in the right direction.


  1. CNN Library. (2019 August 27). "Mexico Drug War Fast Facts". CNN.
  2. National Post Staff. (2019 August 21). "Mexico has made cocaine legal. For two people". National Post.
  3. BBC News. (2019 August 21). "Mexico judge approves recreational cocaine for two users". BBC News.

About Author(s)

Dana Cornacchio's picture
Dana Cornacchio
Dana Cornacchio is a third year undergraduate student at the University of Pittsburgh pursuing a Spanish major, a studio art minor, and certificates in children’s literature and Latin American studies. During summer 2018, Dana completed research with the Office of Undergraduate Research comparing contemporary children’s literature from the United States and Argentina. Dana intends to continue researching literature and other Latin American topics throughout her undergraduate career. After graduation, she hopes to pursue a masters in education in order to teach Spanish language in a classroom of her own one day.